Annie Ernaux memoir details affair with the Soviet diplomat

Annie Ernaux memoir details affair with the Soviet diplomat

In her journal she often describes her dreams, many of which involve her lover or her mother (who is barely mentioned in Simple Passion). Ernaux’s mother died in 1986. She was the subject of A Woman’s Story, published a year later, and she remains a powerful figure in her daughter’s life. Grief and frustration are evident in Getting Loststill painful and unresolved.

The journal, Ernaux explains in her introduction, was not a source for her first account of the affair. It is the sense of another perspective that makes it a fascinating companion volume to Simple Passion, and to Ernaux’s work overall. It is not a counter-version or “the real story”, but an additional layer, another element in the kaleidoscopic play of her writing.

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With Ernaux, everything is connected. Her works might seem straightforward in their brevity and clarity, but they are complex, rich, full of re-connections and references. They trace a complex chronology, in which past and present jostle together, and references to past events anticipate books to come. They speak to each other and illuminate how we read and respond to each one.

During the affair, she barely touched any of her literary projects. “I cannot give up writing the world and for two years, I’ve done nothing. I can no longer live like this. Men and writing — a vicious circle,” she says. Yet the journal is full of intense reflections on writing: what it can explore, where it can fail, what it makes possible, how necessary and inevitable it is for her.

“I am a voracious woman — really, that’s the only fairly accurate thing that can be said about me,” Ernaux says at one of her lowest points. Getting Lost is an expression of extremes, and there can be something exhausting about the feverish obsession, the cycle of highs and lows, and the recurring dreams.

Yet it is also an exhilarating book, the work of a woman for whom desire and writing are equally important. “I knew it already, but as long as things are not spoken or written down — in literature, direct and without innuendo — they do not exist,” she says. “And after that, they never cease to be.”

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